Key West Theater presents
Coffee Butler - Hukilau Nights
Sun, April 23, 2017
Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm (event ends at 10:00 pm)Key West Theater
$40.00 - $45.00
Key West Theater recreates the iconic Hukilau Bar onstage for Coffee Butler: Hukilau Nights. Relive a taste of old Key West as Coffee Butler and friends perform the classics that made the Hukilau famous. The bar will also be featuring tropical drink specials throughout the event.
Starring Coffee Butler and special guests Cliff Sawyer, Robert Albury, Clayton Lopez, and Mina Lopez. Produced by Ralph De Palmahttp://www.thekeywesttheater.com/event/1412823/
After attending Francis Xavier School, Butler studied music at Frederick Douglass High School and learned to play the piano. His favorite musicians were Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong. Torn between music and baseball in his early life, Butler was encouraged by Ellen Sanchez, his high school music teacher, to pursue music. In the Jim Crow era, baseball, she felt didn't provide the opportunity that music would ultimately provide. Sanchez wrote a song The Beautiful Isle of Key West which Butler sang to Harry Truman during the dedication of Truman Avenue.
In the late 1940’s Butler and his father, Duke Butler, formed Duke and the Royal Aces and played the Imperial Cafe and the old Cuban Club. The band grew to nine performers, but the Korean War and the draft soon reduced their numbers to a quartet or even a trio, which became Coffee and His Cups. Their first big gig in Key West was at Johnny Neebo's Starlight Club on Duval. Many other clubs featured the band, including the Bamboo Room on today’s Applerouth Lane.
Coffee Butler was an outstanding shortstop and revered Jackie Robinson, who joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Butler wanted to follow a career in baseball. After graduating in 1948, he tried out with the Negro league’s Kansas City Monarchs. Eventually, he played in the Florida/Cuba League from 1950-1951 for the Palm Beach Rockets.
Butler married Virginia Martha Carpentier, the love of his life, in 1957. Martha was a big reason for his long success and stable life. After 54 years of happiness, Martha passed away in 2011. Her favorite Coffee Butler song was Let Them Talk.
An encounter with the Beatles also figures in Butler’s story, although he doesn’t make much of it. On September 10, 1964 the Beatles were in Montreal enroute to a concert in Jacksonville, Florida. Hurricane Dora forced a detour of their flight to Key West. The Beatles stayed at the old Key Wester Hotel on South Roosevelt, now the Hyatt Windward Pointe. They were jamming all day with a number of different groups. After Butler finished his gig at the Hukilau, Herb Rosenburg took him to the Inner Room at the Key Wester and Butler joined in and played an old Fats Domino tune, Blueberry Hill. A large crowd was forming and the late hour caused the local police to ask that the music end. Beatles drummer Ringo Starr said, "Let the man play.”
Butler helped his Uncle Bill Butler rekindle The Junkanoos with their special Latin and Bahamian rhythms. The group featured percussionists Charles Allen, Kenny Rahming, Joe Whyms, and Alvin Scott. Harry Chipchase played trombone. Edwar Weech played saxophone, even though he had lost parts of his fingers in an explosion while serving in the Army. They appeared often at the Florida Folk Festival from 1977-1991.
Later Butler went solo with gigs at the Casa Marina and became a fixture at Allan Merrill's Hukilau on North Roosevelt (the current Homeland Security Office). One of his favorite gigs was playing with Jim Holt, Jack Holt, and Jack's wife Sheryl Lynn. He also performed with musicians Hector Barossa (saxophone), Buddy Chavez (drums), Bobby Lowe (bass), and Duke Yannacone (drums).
Butler said the owner of Howie's Lounge wanted to take him to Las Vegas and open a bigger venue. Coffee remained in Key West rather than moving to the big city to become a star because he remembered what happened to his good friend Fats Navarro and, he says, he "didn't want that to happen to me.” Fats Navarro, a legendary Key West trumpeter, succumbed to heroin at twenty-seven. Navarro left Key West after graduating from high school and became a huge sensation in New York before his life and meteoric career were cut short.
At the Tennessee Williams Theater in 2005, Coffee Butler, who was retiring from performing music, sang with his good friend Cliff Sawyer. Butler, named the Minister of Music years before in one of the original Conch Republic celebrations, passed the title onto Sawyer.
Key West Theater
512 Eaton Street
Key West, FL, 33040